This is a slightly edited version of a piece originally written in 2009, when Sam was two, and published in my local NCT branch newsletter. I am posting it here now after a conversation on Twitter about extended breastfeeding, in the hope that it may be of help to anyone who might be in a similar position. And also to highlight the reality of extended breastfeeding.
I breastfed Sam about half an hour after he was born, finally, 15 days late, by emergency caesarean section, weighing in at 8lbs and 2oz. He latched on straight away and had a good feed for about half an hour. Great!
I’d always planned to exclusively breastfeed Sam for the first six months, and then continue to breast feed him whilst introducing solids until he was at least a year old. I read up on breastfeeding and attended a birth preparation course with Sam’s dad, which included an evening devoted to the art of breastfeeding.
The next two days, however, were not so great. He was constantly hungry and I was constantly trying to feed him while I was in the post-natal ward at the hospital. I asked to see a breastfeeding counsellor, explaining to the midwives that I wanted to exclusively breastfeed because I have a history of severe eczema, asthma, hayfever and oral allergy syndrome and wanted to do anything possible to give Sam the best chance of avoiding of all the above. I did not see a breastfeeding counsellor, apparently no one was available for the whole two days and I kept being advised to give my baby formula.
Only one member of staff at the hospital told me very sympathetically to “keep at it... your milk will take a bit longer to come in because of the caesarean and the blood loss but it will. You’ll have a few difficult days but it will come good.” This advice, which seemed like a great kindness at the time, kept me going.
By the time I left I asked them for some bottles of ready-mixed formula to take with me. Sam was screaming hungry and I had had no sleep for two days and very little rest at all.
I gave Sam 40ml late that night and he immediately looked happier and went to sleep. I devised my own strategy with the help of a book. I decided I would keep a record of all the feeds and made a chart. It was exhausting and for a few days excruciatingly painful…sore and bleeding nipples! This made me a bit braver about trying different positions and taking him off the breast and trying to get him to latch on properly.
Sam was colicky and screamed and cried a lot for the first three weeks. On the advice of my sister I introduced a dropper of Infacol before each feed and this seemed to help. At the same time I stopped the tiny bit of top-up of formula he was having each night and took him to see a cranio-sacral practitioner, who made some subtle but vital adjustments - he had got very squashed up in my womb. Sam slept peacefully as soon as he came home from the first appointment, the colic symptoms eased and I noticed a huge difference in him. He was much happier and able to move his head and arms more freely.
After six weeks I had a postnatal check up and the midwife told me I had now successfully established breastfeeding.
I didn’t tell her I could pluck my eyebrows whilst feeding Sam. Now that is multitasking. By this point I was starting to recover from the caesarean and was off walking everywhere, visiting friends and family and trying to get to meet some new mums and a friend I had made at antenatal classes.
I fed Sam wherever I went: outside cafes; by the river; in the park; at friends’ and family’s homes; even outside Tate Modern! I don’t remember ever having to deal with complaints or too much staring but I did wear a big smock for the first few months and was fairly discreet.
At four months Sam was introduced to baby rice, after demanding to be breastfed
every two hours and eyeing up everyone else’s food. It was the right time. I introduced a new pureed fruit or vegetable every few days and then started to combine them and broaden his diet. He has a good appetite and eats well and, even now, as a two year old will eat most of what is offered to him, although he does ask for ice cream and chocolate for breakfast, he settles for fruit and toast.
I gradually dropped one breastfeed at a time until last July, 2008; I dropped his morning feed which meant we were down to one breastfeed a day, at bedtime.
We were both happy with this but other people found the fact that I was still feeding Sam myself rather strange and even distasteful. So I stopped talking about it. I even had friends who were concerned that I might be “psychologically damaging” Sam by continuing to breastfeed him past a year. They thought it was “strange” that I would have a conversation with him about stopping breastfeeding.
Amongst some friends and family I have found the subject of extended breastfeeding to be the biggest taboo I have ever negotiated. This has been somewhat of a shock to me as I found breastfeeding Sam to be one of the best and most brilliant experiences I have ever had- and what could be more natural? I am well aware after my own initial struggle that breastfeeding is very hard to establish for many people and is not automatic- it is a skill, an art. I feel very lucky to have been able to do it for as long as I did. It is great to have choices and everyone must do what they feel is right for them and works well in their own circumstance.
I do not have an opinion on this except that if you want to do it then give it a go! Get as much information and support as you can.
Eat loads, drink loads of water and talk to people who’ve done it. Phone the NCT breastfeeding counselling line- I did and the woman I spoke to was fantastic. If you don’t like it, can’t get the hang of it, can’t do it for some reason or you decide it just isn’t right for you - then stop. Formula is not evil. That tiny top up worked wonders for me and Sam when I was recovering from the caesarean and establishing my milk supply. He wouldn’t look at a bottle later on even though I was expressing milk and freezing it in the hope that someone else could feed him for once!
Sam was two on the 13th May this year, and I decided we were ready to stop. I went to a local La Leche League meeting to get some advice and support on the best way to do it. They were lovely. I recommend getting in touch with them if you are breastfeeding and need support. I only wish I had known there was a local group before I was about to stop. I got home from the meeting and that evening began to feed Sam as usual, thinking we would stop in the following weeks after I had handed in all my university assignments.
Sam had other ideas. After two minutes of feeding he stopped and said “Finished Mummy. Want dummy.” I couldn’t quite take it in but gradually worked out that he
didn’t want me to feed him anymore and wanted a dummy like another boy at nursery. He’s never had a dummy and it seemed a bit silly to start with one then so I said “No. You’re a big boy now. You don’t need a dummy.” He had always been breastfed to sleep (yes, I know everyone says this is a bad idea but it worked for me…) so it took him a little while to settle. But the next night he went to sleep without a feed, no problems. He’s never asked for “Na na” and that’s it. All done- and, so far, no allergies, asthma and just a tiny smidge of eczema when tired and teething. Now I just have to stop him from frisbeeing his dinner off the table and on to the floor – but that’s another story.